If the number and variety of articles about holiday stress are any indication, “Happy December” is a bit of a misnomer.

For most, it’s more likely to be Hello Hectic

As we greet the month that is considered by many to be the most stress inducing time of the year I thought I would share a couple of practices I’ve implemented over the years to put the happy back into your holidays.

Some time ago, I decided that I was done dreading the holiday season. The dread just took too much effort: all that festivity and so little joy.

So I began to whittle it down, bit by bit.

First I made a list of the things that I loved about the holidays. I followed that up with a list of the things that I dreaded. Finally, I made a list of ways I wanted to feel during the holiday season. Then I did the impossible. I slowly backed away from the things on the dread list.

Shopping topped my dread list, especially shopping at the mall.

So I replaced much of my gift giving. First by limiting the number of items I need to buy by instead giving donations in people’s names instead of gifts. Next I invite people to do something fun together in lieu of exchanging stuff which, according to the Greater Good Science Center, makes everyone happier in the long run.

Finally, for the remaining physical gifts, I pick three places I love to shop and buy all my gifts at one of those places. Period.

Too many activities also made my dread list so learning to say no graciously was important. If you are truly the belle of the ball type with a closet full of good dresses, a reliable babysitter and copious amounts of free time, then by all means say yes to every invitation that comes your way.

However, if you’re not, graciously saying no to every invitation that doesn’t light you up like the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center is a better choice.

To accomplish this, take out a sheet of paper and draw a line across the page. At one end of the line put a 0 which means absolutely no and at the other a 10 which means absolutely yes . This is your scale. When an invitation arrives, pull out your scale, take three deep breaths and then simply ask yourself, “Where does this invitation fall on the scale?”

Write down the first number that pops into your head — the number that arrives a split second before the rationalization that says “but it’s my boss, best friend, mother, etc.” If the first number is a 7 or above, respond yes. For anything less, decline.

No excuses are necessary. Just say no politely. A simple note, text or phone call that simply says, “Thank you so much for your kind invitation. We’re so flattered to be included and so sorry that we will be unable to attend” will suffice.

Before we venture any farther into December, I encourage you to take a couple of minutes to consider what makes your dread list. If you start paying attention today you’ll have plenty of time to strategize ways to whittle it down so your holidays are happy once again.

And when the inevitable happens and December still feels hectic I console myself by remembering Joe Rogan’s quote, “If you ever start taking things too seriously, just remember that we are all just talking monkeys on an organic spaceship flying through the universe.”

Originally published at lisaculhane.com